I spent yesterday afternoon with three women whose lives have been defined by beauty – one because she has been so highly acclaimed for it, another because she has established a highly successful business marketing it, and the third because of the moment when her husband decided to destroy any claim that she had to beauty in the eyes of the world by tipping kerosene over her and setting her aflame.
The Pakistani actor, writer, and UN ambassador Faryal Gauhar is visiting Melbourne this week in order to perform her one-woman play The Empty Room, which she says holds a “mirror” to the issue of violence against women. Also in town is Mussarat Misbah, an entrepreneur and philanthropist who founded a successful chain of beauty salons in Pakistan as well as an NGO to support the survivors of acid attack. And last but by no means least, there is Sabira, the survivor of an attack that was meant not to kill her, but to sentence her to a living death.
At fifteen years old, Sabira found herself married to an older man who beat her every day to express his dissatisfaction with the dowry provided by her family. When he finally decided that he had no further use for her, he set her alight in an attempt to ensure that no-one else would have any use for her either.
And yet despite this, Sabira’s life goes on. She is now the patient co-ordinator at Misbah’s “Smile Again” foundation, advocating on behalf of acid attack survivors. Tonight she and Misbah will address the audience ahead of Gauhar’s performance at Union Theatre at The University of Melbourne.